Can cold weather trigger asthma?

For some people with asthma, the cold and dry autumn and winter air can induce asthma symptoms and trigger asthma flare-ups.

We know children and adults are more likely overall to be hospitalised for their asthma as the temperatures drop, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Researchers believe this is due to a range of factors including the cold and the level of moisture in the air. The cold weather is also accompanied by the other potential triggers during winter, such as cold and flu, viruses, dust and fires.

Why does cold weather act as an asthma trigger for some people?

The airways of people with asthma can become inflamed and make it more difficult to breathe.

This is especially noticeable when exercising in the cold.

Researchers believe this is due to the dual impact of the cold and dry air on the airways, plus the body’s increased need for oxygen during sport.

They point to people breathing in more through their mouth when exercising, instead of through their noses.

This is important because breathing through the nose can warm, filter and humidify the air before it gets to the airways in the lungs.

But when people breathe through their mouths, it goes straight to the lungs and is unfiltered, colder and drier.

Asthma Australia Senior Educator Gemma Crawley says breathing in cold, dry and potentially unfiltered air can dry out the airway, increasing irritation and sensitivity.

“This can lead to tightening of the muscle around the airway, and this generates asthma symptoms,” she says.

There are also often more viruses around in winter. This year, of course, we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the normal flu season, both of which impact the respiratory system, causing severe outcomes for some people.

How to manage asthma in the cold

Generally, triggers are only a problem when asthma is not well-controlled but for others, when it comes to cold and flu – this time of year, is hard to avoid.

An  Asthma Action Plan, written by a doctor, highlights the daily preventer and reliever medications required for the individual, and what to do if symptoms are getting worse.

It can also set out what to do in different weather and trigger conditions.

For parents and carers of children with asthma , we encourage you to discuss with teachers or other important contacts, your child’s condition, and whether they are impacted by the cold.

Also make sure schools and/or early learning centres have a copy of the child’s written Asthma Action Plan and that you have taken in their reliever medication, spacer and a mask, if appropriate for the type of puffer and age of the child.

If using a preventer is part of the written Asthma Action Plan, make sure they are taking it as prescribed, especially now in the lead up to winter.

Consistent and controlled asthma prevention is the best way to make sure people with asthma breathe and live freely.

For more information regarding asthma and the cold as a trigger, call an Asthma Educator on 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462).

 AirPhysio is a partner of Asthma Australia. AirPhysio has not been involved in the development of this article.

References

https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/weather/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325492